Illinois occupies that rarified air of being a well-known quality and trophy deer state. It's enjoyed that reputation for decades now, making it a longstanding dream hunt destination.
The state's focus on quality deer "won't likely change," said deer project manager Tom Micetich. "We've been able to manage our herd more effectively than some because our hunters have been willing to shoot does since our first modern firearms season in 1957."
He added that "harvest sex ratios for all seasons combined have been around 50-50 for the past three years." In other words, for the foreseeable future, Illinois will still be a great place for big deer.
Deer Population: 700,000-750,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $472 million
West-central Illinois and some southern counties.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Micetich rates his state a 5. "The herd is healthy, in pretty good shape, and we have less deer than we've had in the past, which is a good thing. The age structure is good, the sex ratios are well balanced – it doesn't get much better than that.
"We'll remain a deer-hunter destination," he noted.
Status 5 Years From Now
Micetich sees his state still being a 5 five from years from now. In other words, the quality will still be there.
"I'd look for our harvest to stabilize around a new normal as more of our counties reach [deer population] goal and we reduce the availability of antlerless-only permits, thus decreasing overall harvest," he said.
But he added that harvest, especially of does, "must necessarily increase if we are to have any success in curbing herd growth."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
"Chronic Wasting Disease [CWD] is currently found in 10 northern Illinois counties, and surveillance and management of this disease will continue to occupy much of our agency time and attention," he said. "We continue our efforts to reduce the rate of spread CWD to the remainder of the state, as well as maintain or reduce prevalence in current CWD-positive areas."
Micetich noted that his agency and cooperating landowners have gotten some pushback and even vandalism from hunters opposed to CWD-related culling. "Management for CWD requires that deer populations be lowered to and kept well below levels which most hunters find acceptable," he said.
"Also, declining hunter access as development encroaches on deer habitat, which reduces acreage available to firearm deer hunters – our main deer control 'tool' – will make management that much more difficult," he added.
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Micetich said: "Some of our hunters may believe we have already 'crashed' due to the decreasing statewide annual harvest since 2005. What they don’t realize is that these declines are a direct result of our efforts to reduce negative aspects of deer on the landscape – damage to crops, orchards, vineyards, regenerating forests and ornamental plantings, deer-vehicle accidents, and CWD management."
CWD in particular is on his radar. "If that should take hold or get out of hand, you're going to have some parts of the state where ongoing CWD management will reduce deer populations to well below where hunters want them to be. But it's a necessary evil if you want to curtail the spread of the disease."
Because of CWD spread concerns, "we'll be maintaining depressed deer numbers for a while until some other option comes along," he said. At this time there's no known cure for CWD, which is always fatal.